Between September and October of each year and coinciding with the holiday of Mexican Independence and ending with the celebration of the “Encounter of Two Worlds”, in the United States, we celebrate “NATIONAL HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH” a nationally recognized observance which has been enacted into law.
Today, to speak of the significant Hispanic presence in this country is to speak of something obvious. The National Census Bureau indicated that there are fifty three million Hispanics, as of July 1st of 2012, residing in this Nation in addition to the three million people residing on the Island of Puerto Rico.
Hispanic presence in the life of this Nation is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, Hispanics have been here even before the arrival of the pilgrims. Since 1550, men like Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, together with other explorers, traveled and explored the width and length of the territories which today constitutes the American Union. Hispanics had established themselves in what today is called “Florida”, many years before the British founded Jamestown. Without a doubt, Hispanics have made a mark in the history of this Nation. We have participated in many of the heroic deeds during its formation and have greatly contributed to the overall development of the United States.
Because of our substantial and growing numbers, subjects such as immigration or the legalization of undocumented immigrants are today on the front pages of the media; and rank amongst the principal preoccupations of the institutions which have in their hands the destiny of this Nation.
It is important to note that there are three U.S. Senator and thirty House representatives of Hispanic origin in Congress. This speaks loudly to the undeniable Hispanic contribution in today’s North American society.
Our presence here is a reality, but the mere simple existence of a large population does not give authority. Authority comes from authorship of our own destiny; we must be protagonists and not simply spectators of our own historical and social destiny within this Nation. Only then would we have gained respect and recognition from others.
It is not enough that we are many, big numbers give not true rights; what is needed and urgent is for us to shape the quality of our contributions.
We must define our existence as Hispanics in this Nation in a meaningful way by integrating the Hispanic Community into the greater American Life and to have social, religious, political, economic, cultural and academic influence in the life of this Nation.
During the celebration of HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH, we allow ourselves the opportunity to reflect and truly understand our present situation and its challenges; and to be on the alert about the best way we can develop a future as a Hispanic Community and be of influence and contribute to the everyday life of the American Union.
Some of the questions we must ask of ourselves are as follows:
- Why can’t we have a well lead, organized, reasonable and respectful debate on immigration?
- What relationship (and recognition) is there between our enormous purchasing power (nine hundred billion dollars a year) and our competent and competitive presence in the economy and the commercial life of the United States?
- Knowing that the future is formed in the years of childhood, what can be done about the high percentage of drop-outs amongst the children and youth of Hispanic origin? At the same time, what can be done to address the many Hispanic youth also plunge into the world of gangs, the use of drugs and alcohol, and other forms of vices and violence in very large numbers? • While academic preparedness amongst Hispanics born and raised in our country is on the increase, great numbers of us still have very low standards of living and live in poverty. How can this be addressed?
- How do we integrate into the working world of this Nation the massive influx of illiterate youth who are in the possession of little formal education in Spanish, let alone English? These youths have arrived from extreme poverty in their home countries and become easy prey to the culture of consumerism and materialism and can easily cast aside their altruistic or transcendent values resulting in truncated ideals. How do we keep our youth from becoming perfect targets for those who traffic in human misery?
- It is important today to raise the question of where are the Christian values that have inherited. Such as humanism, integral development, solidarity, spirituality.
The work that is in front of us is difficult and requires conscious, responsible and generous participation of all Hispanics. Hispanics need to develop internally the required leadership to thrust ourselves as a voice in the building of the present and future of this Nation.
This effort implies a focus on encouraging our youth to obtain a higher degree of education; to develop skills in organization and respect for one another and the ability to develop a higher degree of communication with the dominant culture, so that together we can make this society more viable and humane. In a Nation which proclaims freedom, there are still many situations of slavery and licentiousness.
In a Nation which claims to be the empire of rights and law, there are many situations of injustice and abuse to the most elemental rights of man. We can still verify many inhumane situations, all within a society which preaches respect for the human being.
We Hispanics must take the lead in the rebirth of a new American society, truly tolerant and fraternal. We should be proactive protagonists in the emergence of a new society which will finally discover the integrated and harmonious values of the whole American Continent. Such a society that discovers the true value of American Union --that is “Pan-Americanisn” will become a Society that is richer as a result of the diversity of nations, with its diverse ethnicities, histories, languages and cultures but also become united in one territory. We become a society with the same aim to be happy, with the common goal to be prosperous people, more humane and humanized, with fewer borders and divisions and more solidarity.
For the Hispanic community to be able to reach adulthood in this society, it needs to engage in a deep reflection of its history. The celebration of HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH should not pass as a simple “fiesta”; but should be a call for a serious commitment from all Hispanics with the aim of constructing a true, great and noble “hispanicity” in the life and development of this Nation. If we do this, we will no longer be drifting at the mercy of those who do not accept us, who exploit us, or in the worse case scenario, want us to be without identity or completely assimilated to the culture of this great Nation that still needs to discover the beauty of Hispanics.
How great it is that HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH exists! For while there is much we have accomplished there is still much more left to be done!!